Is God Really “Good”? Are You? X
There are some words that we use… that I use, which I have termed “neon words”. I call them this because it seems that every time I hear them they are written in neon in my mind, and generally suggest the need of a definition. Neon words are generally common words and as such it is easy for us to make assumptions about them, assumptions like assuming that they mean the same thing to everyone. In reality they don’t; and that fact causes a lot of confusion.
Today I want to talk about one word in particular. It is used often and seldom communicates very much at all. That word is “good”. So be on your guard. When you hear this word, here are a few things to think about as you try to decipher exactly what thoughts the word is meant to convey.
First, keep in mind that the word “good” always appeals to a standard. By definition it must. There’s no confusion there just yet. The problem comes when the source of the standard is unclear, or when subjective and objective standards become confused with each other. For example, if someone says: “Chocolate ice cream is good”, “good” is appealing to the subjective standard of the speaker. It does not imply that the goodness of chocolate ice cream is, or ought to be, universal. Suppose someone understood that statement in universal terms. That would change everything? The statement would then be an objective statement of truth and would appeal to a universal standard. But when we’re talking about ice cream it’s easy to discern that the statement is not making an objective claim. Trust me though, it’s not always quite so clear.
Consider, for example, the statement, “I am a good person”. Unlike the goodness of ice cream, this is appealing to an objective standard. While ice cream is subject to personal tastes, the assertion of personal goodness requires a comparison to a standard independent of, and outside of, the one asserting it, and which is universal.
With a little thought we can see here how, if we confuse the source of the standards upon which we base our judgments, not only will our communication suffer but so will our thinking. Consider another statement: “Mr. Smith is a good teacher”. What is most likely heard is that Mr. Smith conforms to some objective standard for teaching. But the person saying this might well be communicating that Mr. Smith makes him feel good about himself while he’s in Mr. Smith’s class. Mr. Smith may well not be a good teacher at all. He might just be a likable guy. There is no way the hearer can know what is meant without exercising a little curiosity. He must ask some questions, like say, “Why do you say that?”
We’ve all probably heard the phrase “God is good”. But the statement raises a question. What standard does one appeal to to make such a statement? Is it a subjective or objective standard? Is God “good” because His character aligns with a definition of good derived from my own personal desires? Or does it appeal to a standard that renders my personal desires irrelevant? To correctly convey the reality that these words represent, these questions must have answers. What standard does one appeal to in such a statement that God might be judged as having measured up to it? Our own personal standard? What if, as I believe to be true, “God” is the standard? In that case we can rightly say with Job “Though He slay me, (a bad thing) I will hope in Him”,1 and it would make sense? But if God’s goodness is subject to my own personal preferences, then not only is God diminished, but so is the word “good”. In such a case we can only say “God is good” when we are getting our way and we accredit God for it. But we can’t then also still say, “God is good” when things don’t go our way. Since we have set ourselves up as the standard, then it would necessarily mean God is not good when things don’t go well for us. To judge God according to what you think ought to be, or a standard based on your own likes and dislikes will lead you to a misunderstanding of both the meaning of the word good, and the very nature of God.
Second, it doesn’t help that we live in a time in which all standards are considered relative. The idea that an objective standard exists has been rejected outright because it is believed that an objective standard does not exist. With this view we need not examine our own lives according to any standard other than the one we create for ourselves… which would of course be subjective. Using this sort of reasoning a mother, having just been convicted of horribly abusing her children, could still proclaim loudly to the court that she is a good person, as happened a few years back here in Arizona. Why shouldn’t she say it? To what objective standard would anyone appeal to argue against her? We are all after all, according to the modern mindset, little cocoons wherein our own self-created, personal standards are all there is. Once you understand this you’ll quickly see why any suggestion that there is a standard that exists beyond our own personal tastes and pleasures is met with fierce opposition.
But it gets more confusing yet. You will hear that it is not good for you to impose your standards on others, and we are not to judge others either, as if the world outside our cocoon is now somehow subject to the subjective standards that exist within our insides. The fact that we feel better about ourselves because we are living according to a standard we created ourselves, for the purpose of making ourselves feel better about ourselves, hides the fact that we are now twisting ourselves into logical pretzels and are living instead in folly and absurdity. In this world the very word “good” is rendered meaningless and in many cases — according to any given person’s subjective framework — it is no longer distinguishable from “bad” so that good for some becomes evil for others. Yet the word lingers in our language as if there was still a standard from which its meaning could be derived while at the same time the existence of such a standard is denied. The language therefore becomes confused and communication between souls breaks down so that we live in a modern-day kind of Babel.
So dear children. Hold fast to the foundations laid long ago by God. Don’t think yourself in a position to judge God, but instead cry out for his mercy as he judges you according to a perfect standard that was laid before the foundations of the earth; a standard that all have fallen short of. As Paul admonishes us, so do I, cloth yourself in Christ that you may rise to God’s holy and perfect standard in Him, and therefore become good in the sight of God.